The cabinet yesterday approved a draft bill that aims to stop misuse of surface, ground and river water and preserve and manage water resources in an integrated manner.
Redirecting and intercepting the normal flow of rivers and blocking any river branches are illegal under the proposed law. It says the owner of a piece of land adjacent to any river will not have the ownership of the riverbed and foreshore.
The draft bill -- Bangladesh Water Act, 2012 -- has provisions for punishment of highest five years' imprisonment or a fine of Tk 50 lakh for using water illegally, filling up rivers and other water bodies and erecting establishments disrupting water flows.
The draft comes at time when the demand for water is rising and when river grabbing and river pollution are all pervasive.
If anyone sets up establishments or buildings on land adjoining rivers, he will be identified as a grabber and will be punished under the law, says the draft, adding, “No development project that may harm the ecological balance can be undertaken.”
Neither any government nor non-government organisations nor any person can initiate any project without taking into consideration the bio-diversity, aquatic environment, fish sanctuary and natural drainage system, it says.
In special cases, the government may take steps for trial through mobile courts.
Briefing reporters after the cabinet meeting at the secretariat, Cabinet Division Secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said the cabinet approved the draft to give a legal framework to the existing water policy that outlined every aspect of water management, distribution, rights and payment for using water, protection of river and other water bodies and their banks.
As per the proposed act, water resources of all surface and ground water, including rivers, canals, beels, haors, baors, and other water bodies, and continuous and intermittent water fall and the maritime water will be state property.
The government will distribute the water based on national and local interests and availability of the surface and ground water. In distribution of water, drinking water supply, household work, agriculture, fisheries, environment, wildlife, water transport, industries, controlling of salinity, power generation, and entertainment, among others, will get priority.
The law will not, however, curb the rights of any citizen to use water for household and agricultural work. But the government will have the authority to preserve any pond in the coastal belt or where there is a crisis of drinking water.
Two committees -- one headed by the prime minister and the other headed by the water resources minister -- will be formed to supervise the implementation of the law.